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We've all seen Mad Max and been frightened, if only a bit, by how savage a future it depicts. As extreme as that world may be, there is something about its resource-hungry depravity that seems almost tangible.
1. Foods that Kill
Our food is killing us. There are the salmonella outbreaks, the most recent of which cost more than a billion dollars to peanut growers. Then there's our diet, which has left us obese, diabetic, nutrient deprived, and sick.
Food is central to any discussion of health care. A health care system that treats chronic disease as something cheaper and easier to prevent than treat, places pressure on the food industry to change. As Michael Pollan explains, "to keep from bankrupting ourselves, we will...have to get to work on improving our health—which means going to work on the American way of eating."
2. Pandemic Disease
Changing the way we make food is tied closely with health care for an entirely different reason: It could prevent pandemic disease. Swine flu has its roots in the industrial agriculture system, and it's not alone. Some researchers believe that MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staff infection that is becoming ubiquitous in hospitals, is the result of using regular antibiotic regimens on pig farms.
Then, there is the threat of diseases spreading to new regions as the planet warms. Tropical ailments like dengue fever could become problems in the now-temperate United States.
Health care could help avert these tragedies in two ways. First, it could take control of the use of antibiotics, ensuring that human drugs are not used irresponsibly and in ways that could create resistant microbes. Second, universally available health care will be better able to catch new diseases at their source before they have a chance to spread out of control.
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3. Not a Drop to Drink
Droughts in California and Georgia, to name only two, have made it clear: The water crisis is global.
Our health care system needs to adopt a full-circle management approach that considers the production of medicine and supplies, their use, and ultimately their disposal.
4. Every Breath is Poison
Asthma, lung cancer, and even appendicitis: The air we breathe can make us sick. Recently, the EPA announced that greenhouse gasses pose a threat to public health.
A health care system that considered prevention valuable would be forced to pressure the government to regulate such public health threats. If government-backed health insurance costs increased based on the environmental risks of the insured's residence, legislators would be motivated to take radical action to curb air pollution.
5. Home is Where the Toxins Are
Almost every home in America harbors a bounty of toxic chemicals and these toxins are not only under the sink or in the garage.
Lipstick, toys, and are all commonly cited examples of where toxins hide. While focusing on these individual sources makes for sensational headlines, it fails to miss the true scope of the problem. In 2005, it's estimated that exposure to environmental toxins cost the health care industry upwards of $5.7 billion.
Eliminating or better controlling these substances would, in the words of one researcher, "significantly improve the state's economic performance." This is an understatement anyone in government could understand.
6. The Thermostat's Broken
Climate change will affect your health in both minor and significant ways. Everything on this list will be made worse by a warming climate and, not even considering the implications it will have on health, climate change is expected to cost the United States $271 billion dollars by 2025.
A health care plan that advocated for locally produced whole foods, prevented the use of human antibiotics in industrial farming, regulated the production and disposal of medical supplies, demanded stronger action on dangerous emissions, and lobbied for stronger control of household toxins would, by default, position the United States as a leader in climate change action.
Any plan that does not address these environmental factors, or strive to correct them, will fail under the incredible cost of our dangerous lifestyle.